“So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord…..And we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-7
Do you ever find yourself thinking about what is called, “The Final Judgment?” Such an experience is written about in many if not all religious traditions. It is quite certain that most people have some thoughts about their mortality and what might happen after the death of our bodies. I would think that even though atheists believe in no transcendent dimension, doubts may still linger as to whether or not there might be some type of reckoning on the “other side.”
Chapter 13 in the gospel of Mark is a common theme for most church lectionaries on this Sunday of each year. It is a writing about the end of times when events may become apocalyptic and people find themselves asking, “Is this the end?” The Bible also talks about each one of us being appointed to die and following that the judgment. What will this judgment be? How would we survive if there really is a God who created us and holds us responsible for our actions?
The book A Course in Miracles says, “The last judgment is one of the most threatening ideas in your thinking.” But then it goes on to say, “This is because you do not understand it. Judgment is not an attribute of God. It was brought into being only after the separation ….” (T.2.VIII.2) What does this mean?
What if God or the Creator completely forgives you? What if Heaven was yours for free, for the asking? Does that seem possible? Some respond saying that we only can attain such a status if we make the proper sacrifice and say the proper words of belief such as the Apostles Creed.
A few days ago Kathy Doll sent me a link to a description of the final judgment as described by a comedian named Father Guido Sarducci. In this video Father Sarducci explains life after death and how one can get into “heaven.” He says we must understand ourselves like bubbles in a can of soda pop. The lighter the bubbles the higher and faster they rise which means good souls will get to heaven faster. He said these details were discovered in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal in a document called, “The Secret of Life”. He goes not in furthere explaining the “Final Judgment”:
Life here on earth is a job. We each get paid $14.50 per day which adds up over a long lifetime. When we die, we go through a long tunnel which at the end we meet God. But before you can enter into heaven you have to pay for your sins. This payment is taken out of your daily allowances. Heaven, he explains, is entered on a “cash only basis.” For example, if you stole something like a bag of potato chips it will cost you $6.00. If you were caught lying, it will cost you $10; for murder it will cost you $100,000! Now all these sins add up over a lifetime. Some sins cost you a lot and some aren’t so expensive. For example the sin of masturbation is only about $.35 but it can add up quickly! So what happens if you run out of money? Well you must now go back to earth and be born again and give it another try. And if you’re really a bad person like a member of the Mafioso then you must become a nun because most Catholic nuns were former Mafioso people! So goes Father Sarducci’s explanation of life after death!
But I ask, “what if Heaven is completely free and that God forgives you for all your sins?” How could that be possible? The church has officially taught since the Fourth Century that heaven is attainable only if there is a proper sacrifice made to appease the God’s wrath! Without the sacrifice there can be no forgiveness. God is portrayed as becoming a very angry entity. And so the story goes that God sent a man named Jesus into the world to die for our sins to take away God’s wrath from our lives, but only if we believe it! And so most of the world throughout history has not believed and is doomed for eternal punishment and wrath. To me this means God is one of the most awful genocidal entities in history! Yet this idea and teaching is also been used by parents to justify serious beatings and often the death of their children. This teaching has been used by some missionaries to brutally kill tribal chiefs in order to threaten Native followers into becoming Christians. There is a story in the amazing documentary movie, “500 Nations” narrated by Kevin Costner, which shows Catholic missionaries dragging a tribal chief to his death by being pulled by a pony in order to scare his followers into accepting Jesus. One of the priests explained it was better one person was destroyed than allow the whole tribe to perish in everlasting hell! There are records of this being done in other parts of the world.
Some teach when we die with unforgiven and unpaid for sins we go to a place of purging or purgatory until we have paid for our sins by sufferings and “purgation”. Some explain we keep coming back into new bodies to continue working out our transgressions and imperfections of past lives. They seem to be less violent and abusive. However I still ask again, “What if all our sins and imperfections were simply overlooked and forgotten? What if time is really a vast illusion and that the only Reality is eternity, beyond time and space? What if we considered this journey here in all our different forms and shapes and sizes to be unreal or just a passing dream? What if we are closest to reality when we’re in our deepest sleep beyond dreams? What if we are one with our God, our Father or Mother, who always sees us as his Children who never left home except in our dreams?
To me that’s the essence of the story in Luke of the Prodigal Son. We are the prodigal children who left our homes in heaven, coming here in bodies to be independent and on our own. But in our journeys we expended all our health and wealth and discovered we were still unhappy, angry, and hungrily searching for nirvana? What if after expending all of ourselves, our wealth and best efforts, we simply could go back home to our father and confessed we wasted everything and did not find happiness? And what if our father was y like the Prodigal Son’s father and simply welcomed us back home with open arms? That, to me, this is the essence of God’s likeness. We may have forgotten this loving God who created us as himself in Spirit but He has not forgotten us and knows us as still one with him.
Last week I drove into Buffalo State College on Saturday morning to watch my niece from Sherman, now in her Senior year at Houghton College, play a basketball game against Buffalo State women. I drove alone and followed the route my son had used in his four years of attendance. It seemed I thought of him as I drove each mile, wondering his thoughts as he drove years ago over the skyway and up toward the exit onto Niagara Street. I felt shudders and anxiety as I came to the intersection where one day he was nearly run over by a large tractor-trailer which crushed part of his car! I felt choked with thankfulness remembering he was not seriously injured. I cut over onto Grant Street and drove the final blocks to a parking lot at the college. I walked with memories and imagining how he must have felt attending classes, making friends and decisions about his future with the support of so many fine instructors and professors. When I entered the arena to watch my niece play basketball I remembered again the emotions of the day when Naomi and her mother joined us at Eric’s graduation. I remembered almost exactly where we sat watching him process in and hearing his name frequently read for attaining top honors in academics and leadership in his major field. We felt so proud and I felt amazed how he continues to do well, having traveled to various areas of the world, obtaining two more graduate degrees and now serving as one of the Vice Presidents of Syracuse University. A couple days later I wrote one of my many weekly family newsletters to members of my family and a few of our friends. My son received a copy and called me a few days later and said that when he read it he realized he had pretty much forgotten all about the experience at college including the day he graduated! I wondered about that but thought, “Well my son never has had any children. He and Petra have dogs not kids! But as a father there some things I remember well about each of my children, and especially when they have done well and made their parents proud.”
You and I may forget the Father who created us but still has never forgotten us. We may have gone far through life attaining success and in having frequent failures. But when the day comes when we return home to our Oneness in the Eternal Family, we will know that we have always been remembered, forgiven and loved.
What then is the Final Judgment? We are God’s Children, perfectly loved, and forever known! So welcome Home! You need do nothing but to remember and know God has always loved you; you could have never earned it and you can never lose it. In the good times and the bad times God has always loved you. In all your attempts at righteousness, however good or imperfect, they have been unneeded. “I have loved you just the way you are, the way I made you.”
Copy of talk given on Sunday, November 18, 2012, at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca. Questions and comments are always welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.